When Bryce Johnson first discovered Axie Infinity, in spring 2021, he was four years out of college at Virginia Commonwealth University and had just started his fourth job as a software engineer, working deep in the bureaucratic morass of the government-facing IT firms around Washington, D.C. Johnson, known among his childhood friends for being “extremely genuine,” with an infectious smile, was driving home from work one day in his Honda Civic, when he happened to hear a guest on a podcast make the case for investing in the metaverse. Specifically, Axie Infinity, a Pokemon-style digital card game that had been gaining momentum in Southeast Asia and that people believed could unlock broad-based crypto adoption.
At the time, almost no one was streaming Axie on platforms like YouTube and Twitch, despite the fact that tens of thousands of people were playing daily. “I was just taken aback by the whole idea and decided to dive in,” Johnson says.
On April 27, 2021, he posted his first Axie video on YouTube, titled, “How to Win: Axie Infinity Arena! (Beginner’s Guide),” and almost overnight, Johnson says, he became “the face of Axie.” His timing could not have been better: The game was soaring in popularity. At its peak, last August, it was generating $17.5 million a day.
In Johnson, Axie found a rags-to-riches nice guy who fit its family-friendly brand. He is not a mercenary crypto shill. Yet the economics underpinning crypto rely on promoters bringing in new players and new money. Without them, as we’ve seen time and again, projects fall apart. Johnson’s charisma is what has built his brand, enabled him to have a crypto-world startup of his own, get signed to Gary Vaynerchuk’s esports agency, evangelize for NFTs—and to walk away from Axie‘s collapse without any real consequences. To learn how this all happened in just over a year, read the Fast Company Premium Exclusive story: “Meet a crypto creator who’s playing to win.”
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